A second case of the highly pathogenic avian influenza has been confirmed in another flock of backyard birds in Maine by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories.

Jim Britt, spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said Wednesday that the cases of avian flu reported in Knox County are the first ever to have been reported in Maine. There has never been a case in Maine of a person becoming infected with the avian flu.

The first case was confirmed on Sunday and the second on Wednesday. The USDA conducted tests and confirmed the presence of the H5N1 strain of avian flu in both flocks of birds.

Backyard birds are defined by the state as being pet birds, chickens, quail, guinea fowl, domestic ducks and geese.

The infected birds were not being sold commercially, the state said. Britt said the state is not releasing the names of the towns where the birds were kept, stating only that the affected properties were located about 1.8 miles apart.

Since the outbreaks were detected, more than 100 backyard birds have had to be euthanized, Britt said. In the first case, the property was placed in quarantine and the birds euthanized humanely. Animal health inspectors with the state implemented additional safety measures, including the monitoring of properties with domestic flocks within a 6-mile radius.  The virus is most often spread by wild birds, such as ducks, geese, and shorebirds mingling with backyard flocks. The state is urging bird owners to keep their flocks inside if possible.

Advertisement

The USDA recommends that all bird owners, whether commercial or backyard enthusiasts,  try to prevent their flocks from coming into contact with wild birds. Sick birds or unusual bird deaths should be reported immediately either through a veterinarian or by calling the USDA’s toll-free number: 1-866-536-7593.

Birds infected with the virus can exhibit decreased appetite and lethargy; decreased egg production; discoloration in the legs, feet, combs and wattles; respiratory symptoms such as coughing or discharge from the nose and eyes; or death.

The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s animal health team has been working closely with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor the avian flu outbreaks. The effort has included the Maine CDC watching the health and well-being of animal health team staff members and flock owners who may have been exposed to the disease.

Symptoms of bird flu infections in people could include fever (100 degrees or greater), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body  aches, fatigue, headaches, eye redness or difficulty breathing. Other possible symptoms are diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, and people age 65 and older are at greater risk of getting sick.

Avian influenza does not present a food safety risk if poultry and eggs are handled and cooked properly. There has never been a case of this particular strain of the virus detected in humans in the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it has detected this strain of the virus in Maine and several other states, adding the virus presents a low risk to public health. New Hampshire announced earlier this month that the avian influenza was detected in 20 mallard ducks that were collected through normal surveillance activities.

The early strains of H5N1 first appeared in southern China and led to large poultry outbreaks in Hong Kong in 1997. As a result, 18 people became infected, but the outbreak was controlled, according to the U.S. CDC. The 1997 virus was not eradicated in birds and resurfaced in 2003, when it spread throughout bird populations in Asia and later in Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

Another strain of the virus was detected in North America in 2014, causing widespread poultry outbreaks and wild bird mortality events in Canada and the United States before disappearing in 2016.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.